"...His dream to run Alaska
now is gone.
The history of his name will
The Ballad of Soapy Smith, by Al Oster
Time of Death
July 8, 1898
Friday evening roughly
Why we call it a wake
2Wake n 1: a watch held over the body of a dead person prior to burial and sometimes accompanied by festivity.
the widow of Jefferson R. Smith III (the wife of Soapy's son) passed
away in 1971 she started a family tradition. In her will she requested
the family members, those who wished to attend, come to her home and
remember her fondly. An addition to the will requested that the adults
bring alcoholic beverages and drink them in an informal "Irish Wake."
This caused a stir with some of the more conservative members of the
family but all respected her last wishes. Although to young to drink
Jeff said he remembers everyone having a nice time; some more than
others. Jeff's father, John Randolph Smith, asked that the same be done
for him and it was. When some of the family members went up to Skagway,
Alaska the very first time we created the first Soapy Smith "wake." It
has been called a "wake" since 1974. The
Magic Castle started up their annual event in 2004 but they prefer
the word "party," over the word "wake." On this website and with the
Smith family it will always be known by its original namesake, the
Soapy Smith Wake.
Click on photo for a larger view
The very first wake
to r) Joanne McNelis, Dorthy Richards, James Richards, Jeff Smith, Greg
Smith, Dorthy Smith, Tad, John Randolph Smith, Jeff Brady
Many of Soapy's friends and business associates were very loyal, even decades after Soapy was killed. The toast, "Here's to Soapy's Ghost," came
from one of these old-time members of the gang visiting the family home
in St. Louis in the 1920's. As a young boy, John Randolph Smith
recalled the visit. He remembers the con man talking and drinking with
Soapy's widow. During a drunken lull in the conversation, the con
raised his glass and blurted out, "Here's to Soapy's Ghost."
There are currently three Wakes held within the United States,
1.) Eagles Hall, Skagway, Alaska.
2.) Magic Castle, Hollywood, California.
3.) The Tivoli Club (a preproduction of Soapy's saloon in Denver, Colorado), Whitehorse Ranch movie lot, Yucca Valley, California.
If you are unable to physically join us at one of the wakes, please, no
matter where you are on July 8th, at 9:15 p.m., raise your glass and
give the toast quoted below. It is the toast used by the Smith family,
started 32 years ago! Relatives and Friends of "Soapy", raise your
"Here's to Soapy's Ghost"
Official Time Remaining
for the Soapy Smith wake
Jeff and Ashley Smith
Soapy Wake, 2007
Photographs of the 2007 Wake
Soapy Smith's grave, with a replica of the second marker
Skagway, Alaska is where the Soapy Smith wake originally started. It was 1974 when members of the Smith family, along with the cast of the Days Of '98 Show (The Soapy Smith Play) started the tradition. The newspaper in Skagway at the time reported on the event. Champaign was un-corked and consumed. Before long there was a general need for the revelers to relieve themselves of the bubbly thus began a horrid tradition that accompanied the Wakes. There were no restrooms, so some "wakers" decided to go pay their respects to Frank Reid, the man credited with the killing of Soapy. The reporter defined it as the "sprinkling of Frank." The family and some residents of Skagway thought it was funny back then. The Smith family continued to send up money to purchase Champaign for the wake until it was finally banned from being held at the cemetery.
Frank Reid's memorial
(not the urinal)
At one time the Smith family condoned, and yes, even participated in, "the sprinkling of Frank." The family no longer sanctions or approves of the activity. One might ask why the Smith family would treat Reid's grave as we did. Let me try to explain. In 1974, the Smiths had known for many years that who really killed Soapy had been covered up in various ways. Research shows that Soapy did not die in a fair fight but rather, by definition, was murdered. Over the years we learned the history of the real Reid. Frank had a not so clean past of his own. We knew that he was not the knight in shining armor that so many historians have painted him to be. Soapy's family was tired of hearing the same old "good" versus "evil" stories when it came to Skagway history. The truth is that very few in Skagway of 1897-1898 could be defined as innocent. Most of the businessmen who were so "against" Soapy after he was killed were so happy that he and his men had been keeping the money in town, and in their pockets, when Soapy was alive. "Good friends," however, quickly turned into self-professed "bitter enemies." None of Soapy's friends in Skagway dared stick up for him, and no one can really blame them. To have stuck up for Soapy after he was killed would mean the loss of everything one owned and a ticket straight of town. It was only after they had left the city would some of the residents and friends discuss their true feelings about what had occurred. In 1974, after decades of turmoil over the covered-up murder of their grandfather, the grandchildren's exasperated resentment came pouring out ... literally. Our revengeful grudge should not have been pointed specifically at Reid, but he had been put up on such a high pedestal that he was an easy target to aim at. There are several other targets more deserving. Their names will be discussed in detail in Jeff Smith's upcoming biography on Soapy. Our revenge will be the truth.
am one of the two remaining family
members who were
present at the first annual Soapy Wake in 1974. Though
sixteen, I remember that the Smith family knew of no
Frank Reid. Over the next thirty
years, I was introduced to several
members of his family
and have come to realize how upset the Reids must
family and me for the tradition that began over a
generation ago. I
upset I would be were I to
find that people were doing to Soapy’s grave
begun doing to Frank Reid’s in 1974. So it is, without
expectation of being
forgiven, that I apologize to the
descendants of Frank Reid and express
deep regret that the horrid tradition of “sprinkling” his
was ever started.
Soapy Smith Preservation Trust
|The 108th Anniversary Soapy Smith Wake|
July 8, 2006
Film footage of the last year's wake
The 4th annual 109th anniversary Soapy Smith Wake at the Magic Castle was
an absolute success! Thanks to Whit Haydn and the Magic
Castle. Was there any doubt?
wake was held downstairs of the Magic Castle in the W.C. Fields bar,
and it was packed solid with several hundred reenactors in 19th century
clothing and guests in three-piece suits. The $5.00 entrance included
play money for gambling at the faro tables and a brochure on Soapy and
how to play faro. The money collected was donated to the Magic
Castles, Dia Vernon Charity Fund. Guests were also invited to purchase
numerous auction items, including a small wood chip off the original
grave marker, beautifully displayed in a shadow box. The chip sold for
$80. There were bars of souvenir Soapy soap and Soapy Smith posters
for purchase. In the planning stages, we were hoping to have one faro
table, but were fortunate enough to have four! All of which were busy
the whole night long. They were owned and operated by reenactors and
collectors, so the players were not only instructed on the play, but
given a full character portrayal at each table. At one table Wyatt
Earp was dealing, while at another, you might find a "drunken" Doc
Holiday. They were all very entertaining. The guest who won the most
"money" at the end of the night was awarded one of the Soapy grave
marker chips in a shadow box. An $80 value, according to this years
Soapy money used for gambling at the faro tables
Jeff Smith once again brought the original grave marker and spoke to the crowd on new found information regarding the history of Soapy. He mingled the rest of the night with interested guests. He said he talked until his throat gave out. Jeff was there throughout the evening to answer questions about his great grandfather and signing autographs. There was a notable increase in the size of the crowd, and the knowledge of Soapy this year. Plans are already being made for next year! The guest of honor
time, U.S. champion pool trick shooter, Chef Anton, wowed the crowd
with his humorous and skillful trade. He is very popular. "Professor" Dave Bourne, from HBO's Deadwood,
played his 19th century piano while beautiful and talented Brandy
LaPlante sang popular melodies from the era. These are two really nice
Many guests came in old west clothing and the costume contest had some very interesting entries. Once again, Jeff was one of the judges, and said this year was even harder than last to decided who the winners were. Larry Bitterman, of Old Frontier clothing Company donated one of his finest shirts as a prize.
Jeff Smith donated several slivers that had fallen from the Soapy grave marker, to the event. Whit Haydn placed them in two beautifully decorated shadow boxes, complete with signitures of authentication. One of the boxes went to the raffle and the other was placed in the auction and realized a final bid of $80. Not bad for a sliver of wood smaller than half a tooth-pick.
At 9:00 p.m. Jeff took the stage and spoke on the adventures of Soapy. At 9:15 pm, the approximate time of Soapy's death, Jeff asked Whit Hayden to come join him on stage and the two men gave the toast we all had gathered for. What a night it was.
years bash will be even bigger. We plan to turn the whole Magic Castle
into a den of thieves competing against each other to take the prize.
People will be able to register as dealers or players. Fealers can run
their own faro tables, monte games, chuck-a-luck, dice, shell game,
fast and loose, coin pitch, etc., and play for each others and for the
players' Soapy money. The player and the dealer with the most Soapy
dollars at the end of the evening win the two biggest prizes of the
night. -Whit Haydn
Chef Anton wows the crowd. Chef is the U.S. champion pool trick shooter.
The Smith family wishes to extend their gratitude and praise to Whit Haydn, Jim Richards, Jeff Brady and all the people who have organized and put on the Wakes in memory of Soapy Smith.
Use the links below, or see all pages available in the side-bar on your left
No images may be used without prior written permission from Jeff Smith.